Back then, when browsers had limited or non-existent capacity for sophisticated animation, Macromedia Director, and later, Macromedia Flash had an irresistible draw. I spent years writing ActionScript, becoming highly involved with the Flash community, writing open source libraries, speaking at conferences, and ultimately, working at Adobe, the home of Flash. Open or not, plug-ins or standards-based, I just wanted to make things. Creating for the Web became my life. It’s what put me on the path to studying computer science in college. It’s what gave me a career.
Today, my attitude towards the open web is more refined than it once was. That is to say, I care much more passionately about the “open” part. In the early 2000s, you could argue that Flash was a necessary force for driving innovation on the Web that may otherwise never have happened. But, today I wouldn’t be as ardent of a supporter of the wide-spread prevalence of a proprietary plug-in like I was back then. I’d like to think that twenty-plus years of web development has made me wiser, but more than that, I appreciate how the open web has evolved and grown. We’ve moved on from the heyday of the plug-in, with browsers becoming ever-more sophisticated, feature-rich, standards-compliant and powerful.
Still, dragons lurk ahead.
Like many, I find the consolidation of power on the web among a few large tech companies — namely, Google, Facebook and Amazon — highly troubling. Google, in particular, has a near-monopoly in search and e-mail, and Chrome has upwards of 60% of the desktop browser market share. I won’t use this post to diverge into the details of this phenomenon, mostly because I could never do this better than André Staltz already has in his essay, “The Web began dying in 2014.” His title is hyperbolic, yes, but his facts are undeniable.
What I will say is, that despite (or perhaps because of) its market dominance, Google has done much for the open web through both technical innovation and participation in standards bodies. Google is not all bad; it just has to be reined in from time to time. Chrome, for instance, is an amazing piece of software that, like every evergreen browser, consistently gets better and better over time. It just happens to be built by an organization with strong business incentives to show and sell you advertising. This sometimes skews priorities in ways I believe are detrimental to the Web and its users (ahem, AMP).
Fortunately, there are counterbalancing forces out there. Perhaps the most prominent is Mozilla.
Earlier this summer, when I first encountered the opportunity to join Mozilla, I immediately jumped on it. Once a longtime Firefox user, like many I drifted to Chrome a few years ago when I became frustrated with Firefox’s sluggishness and user interface challenges. Quantum brought me back. It’s an amazing turnaround that has put Firefox on equal footing with Chrome in terms of performance, and has made it a leader in terms of memory footprint. When I switched back to Firefox I realized that something amazing was happening at Mozilla, and I wanted to be a part of it. Now, I’m happy to share that I am.
It’s a privilege to work for an organization doing so much to preserve and protect the health of the Internet and the open web. It’s a privilege to be working with such a talented and thoughtful group of people who genuinely care about the difference they are making in the world. And it’s a privilege to finally be working on a technology so essential to the core of the Web: the browser engine itself. Career-wise, joining Mozilla as an engineering manager working on Firefox feels a bit like a culmination — an opportunity for new challenges where I can draw from my experience in engineering management, web development, and application development in C++. There are an astonishing number of smart people working at Mozilla and, right now, I’m simply humbled to be among them, trying to keep up.
Working on Firefox is not easy. The codebase is massive and, in parts, decades-old. Keeping up with standards changes from the various W3C working groups is non-trivial. And, compared to Google, our team is tiny. But Firefox is also the browser that helped ensure the web is as open as it is today. In 2002, at a time when we were still making sites that were “best viewed in Internet Explorer,” Firefox showed that a competitive, open-source alternative was possible. Today, I believe it’s the best browser you can use if you care about performance and privacy. I can think of few things more important to the health of the Web than ensuring it continues to compete and thrive.